This is the fourth in a series of articles published occasionally to recount the history of the Civil War in Sandy Springs.
By Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt
The 1860 population of the Oak Grove District (now Sandy Springs) was about 1,000 people. A large portion of men from that population would soon leave to join the Confederate army, leaving behind women, children, the elderly and the infirm to tend the farms and fields.
However, after the Federal army crossed the Chattahoochee River during July 8-17, 1864, the population exploded! There were between 60,000 and 80,000 soldiers camped in the woods and fields of Sandy Springs, with all their war equipment, animals, and camp followers. They rested, refitted and prepared for the siege of Atlanta.
As happened in Roswell and other places, ranking officers took over local dwellings for their lodging. The houses of Abernathy (near Powers Ferry), Isham or Isom (near Heard’s Ferry), and probably the Wings (near Roswell Rd and the river) all became headquarters for officers from the three respective armies.
Even if homes were spared destruction, farms were effectively destroyed. Outbuildings and fences were torn apart to be used as fuel for the thousands of campfires that burned across the countryside. Fields that just days before had held wheat, corn, oats and livestock were trampled or stripped bare by wave after wave of advancing soldiers. No doubt fields and streams soon began to be polluted with human waste and animal carcasses.
General William T. Sherman crossed into Sandy Springs on July 16 at Powers Ferry and established quarters near the crossing. From that morning through the evening of July 17, he ranged through Sandy Springs from near presen-day Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School to the edge of Nancy Creek. He met with his two generals, Gen. John M. Schofield and Gen. Oliver O. Howard and corresponded with Gen. James McPherson whose troops were camped on the south banks of the Chattahoochee in an area from the present-day Huntcliff neighborhood to Island Ford. With his three armies successfully across the river, Sherman could now plan his attack of Atlanta.
The few written accounts give a glimpse of those desperate days. Peter Ball and Elizabeth Sprewell recounted the stealing of property without emotion while the fear and anger in Nellie Jett’s letter is nearly palpable. Nellie also shares information about women who had to publically degrade themselves to get food for their families.
…the soldiers came about the 9th of July 1864 about that time they camped about three-fourths of a mile from my house. The commenced to taking my property and kept taking until they got it all. I saw the grey horse taken out of the stable. They carried the horse off to the camp. I never saw the horse any more. Not many days after they took the grey horse they took the dark horse. The oxen were taken from the pasture about mid-day.
….there was a load of them (Federal soldiers). They were camped all around there at the time. They just killed the hogs. They put them on their horses and carried them to the camp. The sheep were in the woods. I did not see the soldiers kill the sheep but they were gone after the army left. I saw the bee stands taken. There were seventeen of them. They took them all. They took jars and buckets and anything else they could get to put the honey in and carried it off to their camp. The honey and syrup were in the closet of the house.
…I saw the bacon taken. It was taken out of the smoke house. The soldiers took sacks and pillowcases from the house to put the flour in.
… I have had hard times with the yanky. They have took everything. I haven’t an ear of corn left. They took all my wheat. They kill my hogs. I have my cow and steer and one heifer. I won’t have nothing to winter them on.
… the yanky took ever horse and mule that the citizen had. I will tell you how the yanky done. They would go and search our house and take everything we have to eat. We had to hide every thing we had to eat. I couldn’t hide a thing in the house, they would find it. They would take my bread off the fire. I am sorry to tell they took the bellows, your razors, your pants, they took the counterpane pillowslip and many other things. My house was search everyday. They took my little wagon. I tried to keep them from taking it. They swore if I didn’t go to the house they would shoot my brains out. I told him to shoot. I talked long as breath in me.
…your word is true about the women hoing (whoring). They have some took all they could get. Nancy H___ and Ann A___ turned out to be bace hoers. Nancy went off with one by the name of Angle to the north. Susan P___ had one went to see her regular. He called her his little gal. She would ride behind down to camp. She would carry loads home to eat. We all had to go to the camps to get something to eat but me, Fanny, and Mrs. Bratton would go. We always went together. You never need to be uneasy about me…
Write let me her from you. I ain’t herd from you since 12 of June. I am in hope I will never see no more yank. Your father and mother is well. The yanks took ever thing they had to eat. I wish you was home to help fix up. The yank tore the gate and ever thing else they could. If you can get home I will be so glad. I will do the best I can for the children.
As Atlanta braced for attack, Sandy Springs became the base for the Federal army. From July until September the occupation dragged on. Fear soon gave way to desperation. Some would soon take actions that would have consequences long after the war ended.
Kimberly Brigance is the curator of the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, 6075 Sandy Springs Circle. This article is based, in part, on materials from the museum’s collection. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of Sandy Springs.
Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer, serves as historian for the Roswell Preservation Commission and has published several local history books and articles.